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June 27, 2017

Independence Blue Cross to place new limit on opioid drug prescriptions

Independence Blue Cross will begin restricting low-dose opioid prescriptions in July, an effort to mitigate the opioid epidemic.

The health insurer – the largest in Southeastern Pennsylvania – will limit such prescriptions to a maximum of five days. 

RELATED: How fentanyl is complicating the opioid crisis

Opioid prescriptions of less than 90 morphine equivalents will fall under the new restrictions. But long-term opioid prescriptions for hospice patients and others battling cancer-related pain will not be affected. 

"This safeguard prevents multiple opioid prescriptions from being filled at different pharmacies and reduces the risk for addiction while addressing legitimate pain treatment," IBX stated in an announcement on Tuesday. "It also reduces the risk of unused medication being diverted into the hands of unintended users."

The health insurer also will begin covering Methadone treatments in August. 

Drug overdose deaths increased for the third straight year in Philadelphia, where 907 people died of overdoses in 2016, according to the city's department of health. Opioids were detected in the vast majority of those cases.

But the opioid epidemic stretches across Pennsylvania, which witnessed a 26.3 drug overdose deaths per 100,000 people in 2015, the latest figures available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That rate marked the sixth highest in the country.

Some people battling opioid addiction say they became addicted to prescription painkillers while being treated for a medical issue. Others say they abused painkillers before searching for stronger drugs, like heroin.

IBX previously began recommending doctors adhere to prescription guidelines developed by the CDC. Since 2014, nearly 60 percent of network physicians have ceased prescribing more than recommended doses, according to IBX.

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